The Artificial White Man Critical Context - Essay

Stanley Crouch

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Crouch is a multifaceted and controversial author and cultural critic. He is best-known as a syndicated columnist for The New York Daily News, a contributing editor to The New Republic, and a jazz critic. He has challenged all orthodoxies both on the Right and on the Left. Because of his penchant for expressing his views forcefully and ruthlessly, he defies ideological classification. Some have called him a neoconservative, because he has questioned the views of many prominent African Americans. Some have called him a sell-out, because he refuses to buy into mainstream African American perspectives on issues of race and ethnicity. He is highly critical of the lifestyle of those with “gold teeth, dropdown pants and tasteless jewelry.” As a jazz critic, he does not care very much for the new forms of jazz music. Crouch is also notorious for his angry outbursts against his critics to the point of physically attacking some of them on a few occasions. Nevertheless, most critics acknowledge him as among the more powerful voices and literary figures to emerge in recent times from the African American community.

First-time readers of Crouch may find themselves simultaneously fascinated and irritated by his bluster and bold assertions. His prose has also been criticized for disregarding rules of logic and accepted usages, for mixing metaphors, and for what appears to be hurried writing. Nevertheless, critics as well as admirers would agree that his views of the media and popular culture are courageous, and he represents an independent voice free of programmatically ideological constraints.

The Artificial White Man is Crouch’s second major collection of essays, after Notes of a Hanging Judge (1990). His other works include The All-American Skin Game: Or, The Decoy of Race (1995), Always in Pursuit (1998), and the novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing (2000). All of Crouch’s works center around the themes of cultural decadence, racial politics, and the ironies and conflicts that prevail in American life. His prose is inimitable in its style, liveliness, and persuasiveness, and it keeps readers passionately engaged, whether or not they agree with him.